[30 March 2011]
Experienced live, Portland’s own instrumental behemoths Grails are a surprisingly jittery bunch. They veer rather quickly from differing musical motifs, creating a tapestry of themes rather than developing one idea to its inevitable climax. It makes them rather a different prospect than the majority of American instrumental groups, at least when they’re performing right in front of you, and 2008’s wonderfully bleak Doomsdayer’s Holiday LP showed that they could hold the interest and distill those wilfull about-turns on record. Deep Politics repeats the trick effortlessly, but we see the band incorporate far more heart-swelling influences than before. Now, they seem stalked by the duskiness of Morricone, the cinematic grandeur of David Arnold and even Henry Mancini, all mingling in a deep, deep puddle.
Their fragmentary approach to composition is definitely stretched on Deep Politics. The running times are slightly longer than before and the feel is one of scale, of measurement. It is an immaculately paced set, opening with the chug of “Future Primitive” and melting into the first and most prominent evocation of Morricone’s West, “All The Colors of the Dark”. The clanging bells and choral vocals provide wonderful depth after the wormy chromatic lines that dominate the early section, juxtaposition providing so much more entertainment than simply lengthening themes.
The title track (like the title itself, come to think of it) suggests a lingering melancholy and resigned seriousness has come to the fore, replacing the rather buoyant metal riffs and omnipresent chug of Doomsdayer’s Holiday. This is by no means a bad thing. The meandering piano lines yielding to yearning string melodies create total engrossment, even shades of Mogwai’s great Rock Action LP. The sounds are, unsurprisingly, deep, and real nitpick has clearly gone into the arrangements. Spidery piano and those lithe strings jut perilously close to each other, the result being fantastic, adversarial musical entertainment. Deep Politics is dependent on its clumps of melody, waves of atmosphere and its ability to convincingly lead you to a destination.
A powerhouse trio of pieces closes the record, one that encompasses all of Grails’ most endearing qualities. The nightmarish canter of “Almost Grew My Hair” is them at their most exploratory, while “I Led Three Lives” is as punishing as “Reincarnation Blues” from their last LP. Possibly the most revealing work brings proceedings to a close. “Deep Snow” sees Grails seemingly trade in traditional, almost cod psychedelia, but it’s underneath this veneer that the interest lays. Impulsive blips and glitches are peppered throughout, there’s no overriding textural mainstay. We move from plaintive piano to sullen pomp to whirring melancholia with no real warning. A pleasantly serene series of warm piano chords brings things to an ultimate close.
Grails have sounded more powerful in the past, but they haven’t sounded this coherent and conceptually united. Big ideas trade blows with mere doodles, but the resultant concoction is easily the band’s most rewarding work yet. As deep as their politics might be, chances are the music is even deeper still.